Spilling ink + embracing accident in Jen Hewett’s sun-drenched SF art studio
Peak Feb froze-zone, we’ve resorted to the over-consumption of clementines to inject some sunniness into 20 degree days. Perfect timing for a tour of a light-filled, west coast work den! See: Jen Hewett's In the Studio. Printmaker, surface designer, illustrator, educator, and the artist behind one of our very first textile editions, Hewett exudes warmth—emanating from her personality, from her Cali-inspired botanical designs, and from her delightful San Francisco digs.
A connoisseur of happy accidents and perfect imperfections, Hewett explains how she makes the magic happen with two separate studio spaces in the same apartment, her go-to art tools, and a soundtrack she calls “self-consciously cool European hotel [in the] summertime”. (If you’re already angling for pics of her sweet pad, pop ova here.) And when she’s not art-making she’s teaching all sorts of superfly fabric-printing classes.
Among her many teaching gigs is an upcoming endeavor that’s taking Hewett halfway around the world. In October 2018, she’s leading a workshop in Jaipur, India that taps into the local printing legacy, including studio visits, expert demonstrations of traditional artisan printing techniques, lessons in Mud Resist, and more. It’s all part of a dreamy 8-day Ace Camp, a real once-in-a-lifetime kinda thang.
Because being a dedicated artist, educator, and entrepreneur isn’t enough, Hewett’s also a new author. Print, Pattern, Sew—which debuts in May c/o Roost Books—is stacked with tips, designs, sewing patterns, and projects to get you block-printing pronto. If making our own custom fabric takes us one step closer to whipping out a DIY wardrobe half as cool as Hewett’s, count us in for the pre-order. In the meantime, we’re living vicariously through her In the Studio interview below.
Peep Jen Hewett's Q+A below and peruse her studio pics... then keep your ears peeled for an upcoming Live With Art podcast!
Where's your studio?
I have two studios, both in my apartment. My tiny (54 sq ft) screenprinting studio is in the enclosed service porch, off my kitchen. It is my “dirty” studio – the one where it’s okay to spill ink and store wet screens. But the room where I spend the most time is my “regular” studio, which is the second bedroom of my two-bedroom apartment. It’s a large, bright room with a five-window bay window, overlooking a busy intersection.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
I love my Rapidographs, which are refillable technical pens. Before CAD and Adobe, these pens were what draftsmen, architects, engineers and designers used. I use them for sketching, and to create my screenprinting film. The pens require an opaque ink, which is perfect for film.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
If I’m not printing, I try to dress up a bit more. Otherwise, I wear jeans, one of the many tops I’ve sewn for myself, and a scarf (because San Francisco houses are drafty and cold). I always wear an apron over everything, even if I’m not printing, because I have a tendency to spill ink and food on myself.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of Moses Sumney, Jay-Jay Johanson, Blue in Green, and KCRW (a public radio station out of Los Angeles, where I grew up). My musical taste is best described as “self-consciously cool European hotel summertime soundtrack.” When I have a lot of printing to do, though, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Check my email.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
I have a pretty regular workday, starting at 9 am and ending around 6 pm. I spend some time on Friday afternoon plotting out projects for the following week, so I usually know what I have to do each day. I will work a late night if I’m printing something I’m really excited about and have a good audiobook, but I really try not to pull all-nighters. My one resolution this year is to not work on weekends, except for weekends when I teach.
Textile artist, printmaker, illustrator, surface designer—you come at your art from so many angles. Is there a particular medium or approach you feel anchors your artistic work? Anything you're eager to explore more?
I think of myself as a printmaker first. I recently worked on a large surface design project, and while I had to provide digital files to the client, every single design in that collection began as a print of some sort. While much surface design begins with a sketch, it is primarily executed digitally, so colors can be flat and everything looks perfect. With printmaking, so much of the artist’s hand shows: from wonky carve lines and slightly off registration, to uneven application of color and stray bits of ink.
The past year is the first time that I’ve done surface design work for clients, rather than just for my own projects. I’d like to do a lot more of that type of work, partly because it means my work can reach more people, without me having to hand print it all!
I also recently wrote a book, Print, Pattern, Sew, which will be published by Roost Books in May. Writing a craft book is a huge undertaking, but I loved working on it. I have many ideas for future books, and hope to get the chance to bring a few of them to life.
You've got a ton of teaching experience under your belt. How does teaching inform your own artistic process?
Beginners often approach a new medium with a sense of freedom, because no one has told them what they can’t do, and because they haven’t yet made mistakes. I try not to squelch this in my classes (or in my own work), while also guiding people toward best practices. And because everyone brings their own aesthetics and experiences into a class, the work that comes out of my classes is so diverse. I’m often exposed to ideas that I just hadn’t thought of.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Nothing motivates me to clean my studio more than a looming deadline.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how did you get there?
I figured out I wanted to be an artist when I was in my early twenties, a couple of years out of college. I started a stationery company, burned out on that because I spent way more time marketing the business and fulfilling orders than I did designing products. Plus, I was broke and massively in debt, so I got a regular job and focused on paying off my debt. I didn’t do much creative work for a few years, until 2008 when I decided to take a silkscreen class at a local community center. I was hooked, and started spending my free time in the studio. When the Great Recession hit, I was laid off from my job, and couldn’t find work for almost two years. This meant I had lots of free time to print. I also began to sell my work online and at craft fairs. I had already decided that I wanted to be a working artist when the job market picked up again, so I began doing part-time HR consulting (my professional experience until then had been in HR and operations) to pay the bills while I launched my art career. I spent six years consulting, but my focus was always on my art. I essentially rearranged my life in service of my art career.
How do you get over creative blocks?
I haven’t had a major creative block yet. I usually have more ideas than time, and the challenge is focusing on executing just a few of them, instead of dabbling in everything.
What do you like best about 20x200?
How many new-to-me artists I’ve discovered by browsing through your collection!
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Until I became a full-time, working artist last year, I’d mostly had “regular” office jobs, so I’m used to having a place to report to for work. On a very practical level, walking into my studio every morning mentally signals that it’s time to start working, and leaving it in the evening tells me that it’s time to stop.
For a long time, my only studio was my tiny screenprinting studio, and I created a lot of work in that room! I had (and still have) just the bare necessities, and use a shared studio when I need to expose my screens or do a large print run. The key is to start with just what you need and what you already have, and allow your space to grow with your practice.
The 411 on Jen Hewett
Jen Hewett is a printmaker, surface designer, textile artist and teacher. A lifelong Californian, Jen combines her love of loud prints and saturated colors with the textures and light of the California landscapes to create highly-tactile, visually-layered, printed textiles. When she’s not creating in her San Francisco studio or teaching her popular block printing classes, she can be found hiking with her high-strung rescue dog Gus, cycling on San Francisco’s less-hilly streets, or hiding out at her neighborhood wine bar.